Cameron and Detail
A belated comment on this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, in which Ed Miliband seemed to catch out David Cameron on keeping DNA samples of innocent people.
Cameron tried to talk about Ed Balls instead, but the Speaker cut him off, and then the Prime Minister had a hurried consultation with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and gave an answer about keeping DNA on computer that made no sense to me.
This was widely reported as another triumph for the Leader of the Opposition, after last week’s on benefits for cancer patients. I was not convinced about either “victory”. Last week’s seemed a particularly shabby bit of shroud-waving, or, rather, taboo-waving. Any mention of cancer seems to give the questioner an advantage.
The other common judgement that seems wrong is that Cameron is not good on detail and that, for the second week running, Miliband had scored a debating win by cunningly asking a question so pettifoggingly obscure that the Prime Minister could not possibly be expected to know the answer. This is supposed to represent an advance to political maturity on the part of the Labour leader.
I do not agree. Cameron can do detail brilliantly. But the question about keeping DNA records was not a detail. It was a big, broad-brush, gut instinct question of principle.
Is it right to keep the DNA of those arrested but not charged with rape?
Civil libertarians such as Shami Chakrabarti, David Davis, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party and (until this week) Ed Miliband would say no, because these people are innocent until proven guilty.
Other people, such as Tony Blair, all Labour home secretaries 1997-2010, Angie Conroy from Rape Crisis, whom Miliband quoted, and most Tory MPs would say yes, because the technology has helped to convict many rapists who would otherwise have gone on to offend again.
Cameron really doesn’t like it because he allowed Davis as shadow home secretary to sign up to The Guardian civil liberties wish list only for the purposes of brand detoxification.
I doubt if he will be discomfited for long, though, because Miliband would have to keep up a New Labour posture on crime, which he will find hard because he doesn’t believe in it.Tagged in: civil liberties, david cameron
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